A Series Of Unfortunate Events, Ranked
Lemony Snicket’s gothic series of darkly comedic novels for children was hugely successful throughout the early-to-mid 2000s. The thirteen novels follow the recently-orphaned Baudelaire children Violet, Klaus, and Sunny as they travel from guardian to guardian while doing their best to avoid the evil Count Olaf. Unfortunately for them, the man is dead-set on their fortune (which Violet, the oldest, will inherit once she is of age) and always shows up in disguise wherever they may be.
Naturally, due to the series’s success, Paramount and Nickelodeon attempted to bring the novels to the big screen in 2004. They combined the first three books into one movie, but the end result felt messy and incomplete when compared to the far more engrossing books. Jim Carrey delivers a great performance as Count Olaf, but the series was ultimately abandoned… until 2017, when Netflix vowed to give all thirteen books their own two-part television episode spread out across three seasons. The end result is something far greater than the 2004 film.
The Penultimate Peril
The second-to-last set of episodes in the series, like many television shows, ends up feeling more satisfying than the finale itself. It’s the pair of episodes that ties up all the loose ends, that pays off many of the setups throughout the series and shows some of the most formally interesting material the show has to offer. The kids they cast as the Baudelaires really epitomize each of their characters perfectly — the same goes for almost the entire supporting cast, as well. This is most obvious here in The Penultimate Peril.
Even though The Penultimate Peril might feel more like a finale and this more like an epilogue, The End is still a great ending to a great television series. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny head to their final home with Count Olaf in tow, just like much of the rest of the series, but the title tells us that this is the last time we’ll be seeing the kids go through something like this — whether or not they finally get to live happily ever after, well… that’s up to the viewer to find out. Ultimately, The End leaves the viewer feeling satisfied without completely putting the mystery to rest.
The Carnivorous Carnival
Part nine of the series (and serving as the season two finale, as well), The Carnivorous Carnival is the point where viewers really start to realize that the Baudelaires are probably never going to get to live a normal life with normal parental figures. There’s often hope for the trio throughout the series, with guardians showing the kids compassion and understanding in the face of adversity, but The Carnivorous Carnival shows that they might be better off on their own. It’s emotional and hard-hitting, especially for a show intended for kids.
The Miserable Mill
The season one finale comes from the fourth book in the series, a point where readers and viewers alike come to find that the Baudelaires just might have enough strength, wit, and ingenuity to come out triumphant at the end of everything. The end is far from sight at this early point in the show — it’s not even at its halfway point here — but fans can be certain that all the struggles the Baudelaires are facing might have some sort of inevitable purpose. They know they have a long road ahead of them, but this is the point where they embrace that and face it head-on.
The Hostile Hospital
The first entry in the second half of the show, The Hostile Hospital deepens and expands the mystery in ways far greater than ever before. The secrets behind the VFD, the elusive Sugar Bowl, and the real meaning behind these seemingly arbitrary things are hinted at and shown in glimpses, motivating the Baudelaires to seek the truth just as fervently as they seek safety.
The Slippery Slope
The first entry in the final season really does feel like a slope: the end is in sight, the Baudelaires are stronger than ever, and they’re barreling toward their ultimate fate at the fastest speed yet. Life is often a slippery slope, just as their horrible situation shows them, but not everything has to be so doom-and-gloom when you have a family like Violet, Klaus, and Sunny have found in themselves.
The Grim Grotto
The point of no return for the Baudelaires comes in the form of The Grim Grotto, the 11th book in the series and the second pair of episodes in the show’s third and final season. This is the point where they learn what is perhaps the hardest lesson in the show’s entire run: that not everyone is purely good or purely evil, but often a varying mix of the two. Count Olaf, who they always viewed as pure evil, proves to have some good in him. The Baudelaires, who viewers have always assumed to be pure good, show off some unforeseen darkness within them. It’s one of the most pivotal moments in the show’s entire run.
The Ersatz Elevator
The first pair of episodes following the show’s second season premiere introduces a whole slew of new characters. The first season might be the most narratively dense and the third might be the most thrilling, but the second season might be the most important for how many characters and ideas are introduced. The Ersatz Elevator brings Esme Squalor into the equation, changing the lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny forevermore.
The Reptile Room
Almost the entire first season was already realized on-screen with 2004’s feature film adaptation of the source material. For that reason, the first six episodes feel incredibly familiar (and subsequently repetitive) for anyone familiar with the film. Still, The Reptile Room—the show’s second set of episodes — manages to subvert expectations and feel fresher than the film’s version of the story because of the fact that it gets to spend more time with its characters.
The Austere Academy
The second season’s premiere is not as strong as the third season’s, but it’s certainly better than the first’s. The Austere Academy is one of the worst places the Baudelaires ever end up, so it’s often pretty hard to watch the sheer exhaustion they are subjected to throughout the two episodes. It’s tough, especially considering all the kids have been through up to that point (and all they will go through in the following episodes).
The Vile Village
Like The Austere Academy, The Vile Village really is a grim low point for the kids. They’ve never been in a worse situation, and it starts to become clear here that far more people than just Count Olaf would be happy to see the Baudelaires done away with in exchange for their fortune. It’s bleak, especially considering the hope that is snatched away from them here in these two parts.
The Bad Beginning
As with The Reptile Room, The Bad Beginning feels familiar for fans of the books and the original film. There’s nothing formally wrong with it, but pilots are often some of the worst episodes of television shows because of how much relies on them — they have to introduce the characters, the themes, the story, everything. There’s not much room for anything else when you set aside all that, so of course, The Bad Beginning isn’t as strong as the rest of the show.
The Wide Window
The third book in the series and the third set of episodes in the first season, The Wide Window gets a lot of screen time in the 2004 film and not a lot is changed between that version, the book’s version, and the show’s version of the story. It’s rather simple, and the most important thing viewers will get out of it is the deepening mystery that the show’s subplot provides. Other than that, you are sure to enjoy the rest of the series more than this.